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Thursday, October 01, 2009

The tower of Babel - another take

Since the beginning of my life on the web I have had this gut feeling that we are building a Babel tower, and that we have to be very careful how we do this if we do not want the whole thing to blow up in our face.
There is the issue of architecture, and how we are today surfing private silos (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, etc...) rather than surfing a global web of distributed servers. And there is risk in this.

And then there is the social web.

This is what I see:
- people have limited time to spend reading stuff and interact with others on the web, so they have to choose
- meanwhile there is an increasingly large number of sources of news, and of places to interact, so choice is becoming even more difficult
- in the end, what will make me choose one place or another is where the people I know are. And if I make new friends, I will invite them to join these places where my network is, as a way to share this network with them and bring them into that one place where I can maintain network. Pick one and stick to it.
- what it means, is that these places can only be public places, easily accessible by others and places that will remain open to me whatever happens to me (job situation, personal life situation). This is the promise of a LinkedIn or a Facebook, and many other "public" services.
- from a business prospective, this is also the promise of these vertical networks of experts, which make a lot of sense to share best pratices and create some critical mass around a given subject matter.
The issue however, is that the more we get together talking about a subject, the more we are turning this vertical network into a competitive economy where the winner takes all. From the network, will emerge a few recognized experts, and they will get most of the traffic, and most of the deals. Everybody else in the group becomes another person stuck in the middle and struggling to get their voice heard. An individual among many others in the long tail. Which is not a very healthy economy for most (who makes money from his/her blog today?).
For the expert in the middle, the way out (until he gets some attention and can be the lucky beneficiary of the network effect) is the personal network, people who appreciate the value he brings and will agree to compensate him fairly for that value.
And this is where the tower of Babel story comes back into mind: the story ends with a lot of small groups that do not talk to each others, because this is a more sustainable way.
Let's see what happens this time around...

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